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The ANC desperately needs an external electoral threat to overcome the orgy of debilitating internal battles, says Susan Booysen.
Johannesburg - The ANC needs an external electoral threat desperately. It needs an enemy to overcome the orgy of debilitating internal battles and associated struggles racking the broad church and the state’s portals of power. It has to focus attention on to a decoy electoral struggle.
The ANC might have benefited from a phenomenon like the Congress of the People (Cope).
Five years ago this spectacle brought an external target on to the party political landscape. Fired up, the ANC could concertedly and ruthlessly mobilise against the menace.
This struggle simultaneously brought sufficient unity of purpose to help the ANC muster a prodigious 2009 campaign.
On a second layer, it constructed Jacob Zuma as the antithesis of the Mbeki demon, the latter symbolising all that had gone wrong in the ANC.
With Mbeki and associated baggage exorcised the Zuma ANC claimed the mythical (so it turned out) status of renewed caring and reconnection with the people.
This ANC could then return struggle to ANC politics; even the second phase of the national democratic revolution got a second lease on life.
Even then Cope Model 2009 took a solid 7 percent chunk of the national vote, but the ANC had its 2009 campaign cut out for it.
This time around there appears to be little to leverage a hyper ANC campaign platform; not even the pending two decades of democracy celebrations may substitute.
The lack of an overriding platform of an external party enemy is exacerbated by the entrenchment of factional dominance in the ANC (hence the “Zuma ANC” as a new semi-party) and the deficit of strong, inspirational national leadership.
In 2009 Jacob Zuma was positioned as redeemer and symbol of hope. Now his personal ratings fall dramatically short of ANC ratings.
The political landscape has changed vastly in the past five years. This year’s pre-electoral scene is one of outbreaks of organisational dissent and popular discontent. They might – or might not – be covered up in the unfolding ANC election campaign.
This pre-election territory resembles a field of fireworks exploding randomly.
Both the once-monolith mother body and the tripartite alliance are suffering the explosions, par for the course in keeping the incongruent under one roof.
Consider this. Cosatu is at war. Its unity and political impact are being killed off. Affiliate unions threaten to part ways. Elite labour interests are at stake.
The ANC claims distance from the disputes, turning a blind eye to union bosses currying favour with Luthuli House.
The no-go area of Marikana is a stark reminder of the distance between the ANC and significant groups of citizens. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) rub salt into wounds and connect where the ANC vanishes behind the curtain of the Marikana commission.
South Africa reels under the weight of questions about Nkandla, abuse of the Waterkloof Air Force Base, the ever-lingering arms deal and a fabled investigation by no less than a judicial commission.
Civil society mobilisation around the e-tolls conundrum spooks government policy implementation.
The Zuma exoneration tapes refuse to die.
The fireworks burn holes in the heart of the ANC. In several provinces it is at war – with itself.
Intractable factional battles are entrenched. Incumbents of party and public positions, previously the outsiders, have little intention of letting go. Even if individuals depart, rotation has become an intra-faction process, discouraging critiques and mocking festivals of ideas.
Clampdowns on intra-ANC dissidence and non-compliance with movement dictates come home to roost in municipal by-elections.
Ward elections bring casualties or near-casualties when “ANC independents” challenge their former masters. In the crossfire many voters take refuge in abstention rather than choosing a trench. The DA creeps into crevices left by ANC fallout and causes immense irritation.
The fallouts are hardly new, but become more important circa 2013 courtesy of diminished national leadership. Endemic civil wars in the ANC fill this void, fusing into government actions and thus into policy deliberations.
These skirmishes are long in the making. Some reach back to the Polokwane putsch of 2006-08; others to the Great Gear War starting in 1996. The latter has jumped vessels, now infiltrating the National Development Plan (NDP). The wars spill over into state institutions. They have been pulled down and partially paralysed for years in a row.
Fallout started at the time of Polokwane. It had barely abated when Mangaung came. Then the jostling started. They now lobby factional power brokers for post-election 2014 deployment. Fictionalised intelligence reports with improvised plots are one little indicator that makes a huge mockery of state intelligence, rogue or not.
These battles unfold while poor audits and political unaccountability accumulate in local and provincial government. The numbers of red-carded municipalities refuse to budge. The public protector’s inbox groans under overload of corruption suspicions, originating across the sectors and spheres of government. Politicians and officials become heroes not for doing their work, but for apologising for having looted public money. Commissions and task teams flourish, water-treading to help create illusions of continuous progress and policy solutions. Consultants’ pockets bulge with cash for work that the public servants are paid to do, and often are even qualified to do.
Commissioners and lawyers are just as chuffed.
Multiple veld fires are raging. They might not yet be out of control but firefighters or firebreaks are nowhere to be seen. Is this situation just normal South African politics, evidence of a robust political culture in a situation of the last epoch of continuous dominance by a juggernaut party? A situation where even service delivery protests may have become old fashioned, not quite beckoning the public representatives any more, and even less bringing in corrective action?
This is what is at stake for the ANC in elections next year.
Come 2014 South Africa could set a record for combining spectacular, but generally peacefully expressed, levels of citizen political discontent and widespread societal lawlessness with continuously high affirmation of a governing party.
Perhaps this will be the confirmation of, in many respects, a wild and wacky society, where the rules are eminently flexible, the politicians and officials are tolerated for misdemeanours.
South Africans shake their heads in amused disbelief at the latest greedy and probably criminal transgressions of the liberation movement government and its crowds of hopeful hangers-on! The diligent, faithful and continuously progressive are swamped into silence.
Chances are that by the time elections come, South Africans will be so exhausted by years of ducking the political bullets and listening to wannabe great opposition political parties that they will come out in mass numbers and help the ANC out of its misery, fill in suspected deficits in voter support and continue to bear with an ANC in which many openly talk about the “Mangaung mistake” of reaffirming incumbent leadership.
But the movement’s task to bring in the mass vote would have been so much easier had there been an external party political enemy as a focal point, one that would have drawn attention away from the plethora of ANC internal and societal fires.
So far, neither the EFF nor Agang fill the decoy gap. Much of the voter audience loves the salvos of truths to power. But there is no contest with the often lawless and frequently almost out-of-control ANC and ANC government.
* Susan Booysen is a professor in the Graduate School of Public & Development Management, Wits University and author of The ANC and the Regeneration of Political Power.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.